House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) was crystal clear in a phone interview this morning: “No taxpayer funds should go, they must not go” to the new Palestinian unity government. She was emphatic, explaining, “Hamas is designated as a foreign terrorist organization.” The agreement between Hamas and Fatah means, she says, “this foreign terrorist organization which has called for the elimination of Israel” is now in league with the Palestinian Authority.
She’s not impressed with fine distinctions between which particular entity signs the deal. “Whatever hybrid marriage, whatever Rubik’s cube” they use, she contends, U.S. taxpayer funding is prohibited under current law. “That’s what the law says,” she told me.
She explains, “My goal is that we disagree with [the administration’s] loose interpretation of a specific law, using non-vague language and we are going to do our best to block funds.” From her contact with the administration, it appears to her that the administration is making an argument that so long as Hamas does not “control” the new government, U.S. funds can flow. She swats that notion away: “That’s not what the law says.” Under the new deal, she says, “I don’t care if there is one or five or hundreds of members of Hamas; no U.S. funds can go to the PA. Call it what you want. . . . Be fools if you want. But we will hold the Obama administration’s feet to the fire.”
What if Hamas were to abide by the Quartet’s requirements that it recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and agree to abide by past Palestinian agreements? She says she “can’t see Hamas abiding by these requirements.” But if Hamas were to do so (she observes, “they’re scoundrels, they do lie”), she hopes the United States would not be “snookered ” by empty promises.
She is confident there is bipartisan support in Congress for her position, citing public comments by Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Kay Granger (R-Tex.) calling for funds to be cut off should the unity government come to fruition. Ros-Lehtinen is planning hearings and lining up witnesses. She’d “welcome their involvement,” but she questions whether Obama officials will want to participate. Cooperate or not, the administration will find itself isolated if it insists on continuing to fund the PA. Ros-Lehtinen dismisses the administration’s rationalization for continued funding: “ ‘Oh, if we can only keep up the funding, they will reform. If we don’t keep funding them they’ll become really bad guys.’ Listen, they are pretty bad guys already.”
Ultimately Congress holds the purse strings, and you can bet that come fiscal year 2012, Congress won’t be funding any unity government — assuming it lasts that long.
In Part 2 later today, the chairwoman discusses Pakistan and Syria.